The New York Rangers hired Gerard Gallant as their head coach last offseason and he had an eventful first season. Though some of his decisions didn’t work out, the team made their deepest postseason run since 2014-15. They certainly took a step in the right direction and he deserves credit for that.
Positives Under Gallant
In Gallant’s first season with the Rangers, they found their identity as a gritty, physical team that forechecks aggressively. For a few seasons, they struggled to find an identity as they failed to make the postseason for four consecutive years.
Another key to New York’s success last season was their improved play on special teams. They finished the season with the fourth best power-play in the NHL, scoring on 25.2 percent of their power plays, and Chris Kreider had a breakthrough season with 52 goals, including an NHL-leading 26 power-play goals.
Additionally, the Rangers finished with the seventh-best penalty kill in the NHL at 82.3 percent last season. Gallant deserves credit for making Kreider one of his top penalty killers despite the fact that he hardly ever killed penalties before last season. He excelled in the role alongside Mika Zibanejad, as they repeatedly used their speed and strength to create scoring opportunities while shorthanded.
Gallant also trusted New York’s young blueliners in the playoffs and it paid off as Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and K’Andre Miller all excelled and made the most of their opportunities. Gallant did not panic with the Rangers down 3-1 in their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he did challenge the team and called their performance in Game 4 “soft.” They went on to win three in a row to advance to the second round. Once there, they fell behind the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 but he once again did not panic and the team rallied to advance in seven games.
Even though the Rangers ran out of gas and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, Gallant had an impressive first season behind the bench.
Negatives Under Gallant
While Gallant trusted his young defensemen in the postseason, early in the season, he repeatedly opted to use Patrik Nemeth instead of Miller late in close games and on the penalty kill. He also used him in New York’s first few postseason games even though he played poorly during the regular season.
Gallant also left Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere out of the Rangers’ top-six forward group and top power-play unit. That decision made sense late in the season after the Rangers acquired Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano at the trade deadline, but he repeatedly played Dryden Hunt on a line with Artemi Panarin before then.
Hunt finished the season with just six goals and 11 assists in 76 games. Gallant also opted to begin the regular season with him in New York’s lineup rather than skilled prospect Vitali Kravtsov which led to him refusing to report to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League and asking to be traded. While it’s not Gallant’s fault that Kravtsov did not respond to adversity well, losing a top prospect to keep Hunt on the roster was certainly not ideal for the Rangers.
In the Eastern Conference Final, Gallant also made the surprising decision to scratch Kakko in Game 6. The Rangers’ “Kid Line” of Kakko, Lafreniere, and Filip Chytil had played extremely well all series and even though he failed to capitalize on many of his scoring chances, he still created chances and played well defensively. That said, the entire team looked worn down at that point in the series and it’s unlikely that they would have won Game 6 (which they lost 2-1) even if Kakko played.
For Gallant & the Rangers Moving Forward
A key for the Rangers next season will be the development of their youth and they will need Gallant to show faith in those young players and give them more opportunities. After a few challenging seasons during a rebuild, the Rangers became contenders last season and Gallant deserves praise for the team’s deep postseason run. Now, he will need to make sure that they continue to improve and move in the right direction.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.